Wednesday, September 14, 2011


This weekend was filled with still more traveling.  My sister shipped her very beautiful, very new, and very loaded Ford Flex to our house, as she had been living with us for a bit while her husband got their home settled in Minnesota, but the Flex wasn't shipped in time so she had to leave it behind and let me drive it up.  14 hours across some of the most beautiful landscape in America in a car that parallel parks on its own, plays music via voice command, and has enough power and control to keep up with a Corvette in the Black Hills?  Fine, twist my arm.  Also, don't ask me how I know that it can keep up with a 'Vette and I won't have to tell you any lies.

The drive went exceptionally well.  The cherry-red Flex ate up the freeway, my Bluetooth-linked iPod spilling everything from Ke$ha to Linkin Park to ABBA to Snow Patrol. The drive through the Wyoming prairie, the Black Hills of South Dakota, and the badlands of North Dakota was breathtaking, relaxing, and exhilarating at times. All was well.

As I got deeper into North Dakota, I noticed some clouds overhead.  They were thick and grey, hanging low over the horizon, so I assumed I'd pass under them pretty rapidly. The moon was still shining behind me, casting an impressive glow over the flat landscape. I drove and drove and drove, but the clouds still loomed in the sky. I thought I saw them moving about, so I pulled over to observe them without the light pollution of my headlights. I needed some fresh air anyway.

I looked ahead to the clouds and saw them stretching, thick and ribbon-like from the east to the west. I studied them a little closer and was surprised to see them dancing, up and down, subdivided into little columns that moved and oscillated, independent of the night sky surrounding them.  My heart jumped into my throat as I realized that I wasn't looking at clouds, I was watching the Northern Lights!

Chills instantly ran up and down my back and out to my periphery.  Seeing an aurora has been on my bucket list from day one of my life, it seemed, and now I had the chance. I had looked forward to them till that moment, seeing pictures of those green and blue and occasionally red lights in textbooks and on Google, and so looked forward to seeing them that I would surely be disappointed when I actually got the chance.  But even though the lights I saw were partially obscured by the full moon and the aurora above me was mostly grey and devoid of color, I was thrilled by my discovery.  I felt like the first person on earth ever to see them and nothing else could compare to their brilliance.

Jeroen Van Bergejik writes in his book, My Mercedes is Not For Sale, that, while on vacation, very few people have authentic experiences, that is, experiences that are unspoiled and free from the influence of something external. For example, eating at a "traditional" Hawaiian luau and drinking Coca-Cola with your roast pig is not an authentic experience.  In fact, it's so difficult to find a truly authentic experience nowadays because our world is so interconnected, for better and for worse.

However, in spite of the perfectly groomed highway in front of me and the $50,000 station wagon behind me, seeing those auroras floating in the night felt like an authentic experience.  I felt like the first man must have felt, looking up into the night sky, humbled, chilled to the bone, maybe a little scared, but completely enthralled and appreciative of the beauty of this world.

After awhile, I got back in the car and resumed my drive. I started thinking about how easily I almost mistook the Aurora Borealis for clouds and started thinking about the other auroras in my life that I occasionally write off as rainclouds. This life is full of Northern Lights, but sometimes it requires pulling over and studying them to really understand how amazing they are.

1 comment:

  1. I think this is one of my favourite posts that you have written. I truly get that concept of authentic experiences. When they happen they are a thing to be treasured. I have my own from about 4 years ago. Stepping outside of a tent at night and looking up and seeing milliosarod stars in the sky. Having probably Only ever seeing hundreds before. It was truly an amazing moment.
    This has also got me thinking that sometimes in order to see the beauty in the world we need to let it go dark and turn the lights off. I'm sure there is a beautiful metaphor and analogy in there some where. I'm just too tired right now to pick through it.


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